Townsend Labs Sphere L22 mic system assessment: Versatility encapsulated

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Classic condenser microphones are extensively wanted and revered within the music manufacturing world for the best way they’ve captured environment and artistry on a long time of basic vocal recordings. Sadly, this unshakeable mythology, paired with the ever-increasing rarity of intact working items, makes classic mics extremely costly and almost unattainable for the typical vocalist or producer to entry. For instance, on the time of writing, a functioning classic Neumann U47 just like the one Frank Sinatra most well-liked may set you again roughly $20,000. So how thrilling wouldn’t it be to may get that tone, and lots of others, for underneath $2,000? As I came upon, it’s very thrilling because of the Townsend Labs Sphere L22 modeling microphone—a hardware-software system that successfully mimics the response of 34 classic microphones whereas including fashionable customization to your sign chain.

The Sphere L22 mic has been making waves because it first made its debut again in 2016. It not too long ago joined Universal Audio’s household of flagship mics that features the Common Audio SD-1, an reasonably priced workhorse I’d advocate for content material creators needing a dependable dynamic microphone. Because of UA, I examined the Sphere L22 at my house studio to see if this high-tech condenser mic can be a must-have and an reasonably priced, sustainable answer for producers that desire a classic mic locker however solely have the room and/or finances for a laptop computer.

The Townsend Labs Sphere L22’s design

Even with out contemplating its software program component, the Townsend Labs Sphere L22’s design is a presence: the beefy, roughly 1.7-pound microphone options two inside capsules that enable it to seize each mono and stereo alerts, fed to suitable recording interfaces via its included dual-output XLR cable. This dual-capsule design permits the Sphere L22 to seize extra acoustic data than a single-capsule microphone, a element that’s key to the system’s distinctive capacity to mannequin the bodily traits of different microphones, together with polar patterns (Cardioid, Omni, Determine-8), proximity impact, and off-axis response. Regardless of its high-tech aspirations, the microphone doesn’t attempt to heap on visible aptitude; its understated exterior isn’t whilst flashy because the classic microphones it fashions. There’s simply an ON change and a toggle for -10dB or -20dB pads. The upside to that is that it feels a lot much less fragile when being dealt with, suggesting its suitability for high-impact work in fashionable studios.

On the software program aspect of issues, all modeling and granular mic controls are dealt with by the Sphere DSP plugin. The corporate supplies this software program in AAX, VST, and AU codecs for compatibility with a variety of digital audio workstations, and customers recording the Sphere L22 with a Common Audio Apollo interface may benefit from real-time processing (latency of roughly 1.6ms roundtrip at 96kHz) utilizing the UAD model of the plugin. Throughout the software program, customers can toggle between microphone fashions and regulate the polar sample, filter, and different traits of the mic both earlier than or after recording. Always, the energetic microphone is pictured alongside a big graph that exhibits the present polar sample, which modifications in real-time as parameters are adjusted. 

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Getting began with the Townsend Labs Sphere L22

The Townsend Labs Sphere L22 comes packed in a sturdy locking case with custom-fit foam inserts alongside a screw-on shockmount, a proprietary 10-foot dual-output XLR cable, and some spare components, equivalent to a set of keys for the case itself. The {hardware} setup course of is so simple as screwing the shockmount to the underside of the microphone, mounting the unit on a stand, and utilizing the {custom} cable to attach the mic to 2 inputs on a recording interface that delivers 48-volt phantom energy. 

For my assessments, I related the Sphere L22 to inputs one and two on a Common Audio Apollo Twin and loaded up an occasion of the UAD Sphere plugin contained in the Common Audio Console utility. To ensure that the L22 to perform correctly, it’s vital to exactly match the enter acquire on each channels; whereas the Apollo makes use of stepped-gain preamps and presents stereo linking to make this course of straightforward, the microphone additionally features a calibration perform that briefly feeds the entrance capsule’s sign to each outputs for simpler matching when utilizing preamps with steady acquire adjustment.

Whereas the Sphere DSP software program is included within the sale value of the Sphere L22, customers should obtain the plugin and set up it manually earlier than the system is absolutely prepared to make use of. Should you’re not utilizing a Common Audio Apollo otherwise you simply wish to use the UAD plugin for monitoring with out committing to the plugin settings, it’s additionally potential to load up the Sphere DSP plugin inside your DAW of selection as an alternative, which in my case is Logic Professional.

Due to its weight and measurement, the Sphere L22 works greatest on a sturdy microphone stand; I used a DR Professional Telescoping Mic Stand with Growth Arm, however one thing with a counterweight would carry out even higher. The Sphere L22 additionally doesn’t embody a pop filter to filter out plosives and air, which is a must have when utilizing any condenser microphone to guard the capsule and guarantee a transparent recording. For my assessments, I used a Stedman Professional Display XL pop filter.

Townsend Labs Sphere L22 on a shockmount and boom arm
Julian Vittorio

The Townsend Sphere L22’s sound

To ascertain a baseline and start exploring the vary of the Sphere L22’s efficiency, I recorded male vocals in mono and acoustic guitar in stereo utilizing a dry sign from the microphone with none mic modeling or different processing utilized. The L22’s very low weighted self-noise spec of seven dB-A was on full show on this situation, delivering a crystal-clear sign with little or no background hiss to talk of even at larger acquire settings.

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Many reviewers have praised the tonal character of the Sphere L22’s dry, unaffected sign, which is described by the producer as being tuned to be a jumping-off level for modeling different large-diaphragm condenser mics. My expertise was roughly according to this description; I discovered the mic’s sound to be pleasantly lush and straightforward to take heed to within the high-frequency vary with hardly a hint of any brittle traits. Total, I’d describe the Sphere L22’s unaffected sound as hi-fi and modern-leaning but well-rounded, suggesting it’d be very versatile whilst a standalone mic.

Subsequent, I loaded up a few situations of the UAD Sphere plugin on my recorded mono vocal and stereo acoustic guitar tracks. I’m no stranger to the real-time latency-free monitoring supplied by Common Audio’s Apollo techniques. Nonetheless, as a mixing engineer, I’m far more within the Sphere software program’s capacity to alter the mic mannequin, response sample, off-axis correction to attenuate bleed and room coloration, and different parameters after the sign is recorded.

As of writing, the inventory Sphere software program presents a complete of 34 modeled microphones to select from, together with classic Neumann U47 and Telefunken 251 tube condensers, the Coles 4038 and RCA 77-DX ribbon mics, and even dynamic microphones just like the Shure SM7B (one among my go-to mics) and Sennheiser MD421. For my take a look at, I utilized the LD-47K modeled after the Neumann U47 large-diaphragm condenser on the vocal and the RB-4038 modeled after the Coles 4038 ribbon on the acoustic observe.

Every of those microphones has its personal recognizable and versatile sonic character, protecting a variety of recorded music historical past. For instance, the U47 options prominently on vocal recordings by the Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald, David Bowie, and lots of others. The Coles 4038, in the meantime, was developed by the BBC within the Nineteen Fifties as an all-purpose microphone, was used extensively by engineer Glyn Johns to document drum kits for The Who and Led Zeppelin, and is favored by Pixies and Nirvana producer Steve Albini for stringed devices, guitar amps, and extra.

In distinction with the dry tracks, the LD-47K mannequin added some quick midrange wooliness and chunk to the vocal. In the meantime, the RB-4038 channel took on the unmistakably mellow character of a ribbon mic and introduced out far more low-end resonance from the acoustic guitar with some very pleasing high-end smoothing. Throughout playback, I frolicked tightening the polar sample of the vocal mic from cardioid to supercardioid after which hypercardioid and heard the recording grow to be extra targeted because the room ambiance was pushed additional into the background. I additionally manipulated the proximity impact management on the acoustic guitar observe, which added and subtracted low-frequency emphasis to simulate recording at totally different distances from the microphone. Even after this transient take a look at, the uncanny character of the modeled sound mixed with the software program’s responsive granular controls made the flexibleness and wide-reaching potential of the Sphere L22 for mixing and sound manipulation very obvious.

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Notably, the stereo occasion of the Sphere DSP plugin permits customers to mannequin two totally different microphones for the left and proper channels. I used this characteristic to approximate the mixed sound of an RCA 77-DX ribbon microphone on the neck of the guitar and a Neumann M49 large-diaphragm condenser on the physique. Utilizing the software program’s width management and experimenting with the polar sample settings of every channel allowed me to entry an excessive amount of sonic and spatial selection with little or no effort, additional driving house simply how versatile this method might be in a mixing setting.

Townsend Labs Sphere L22 mic in front of UA Apollo interface and a MacBook
Julian Vittorio

So, who can buy the Townsend Labs Sphere L22?

The Townsend Labs Sphere L22 modeling microphone presents a lot greater than the typical condenser mic. And the very fact it does this for less than $1,499 is form of exhausting to consider contemplating that it’s actually extra of an all-in-one recording system that continues to realize new options over time. Its rugged construct, stereo efficiency, and dry sound high quality alone would make it a incredible worth for studios of each measurement. However its almost infinite sound customization on high of all the things else makes it considerably of a no brainer, whether or not you’re contemplating it as your first microphone or your hundredth. 

Positive, its value when in comparison with versatile workhorse vocal mics just like the Shure SM7B makes it overkill for a podcaster, however for each working musician, engineer, and producer it’s a discount for what it presents—emulating tons of of 1000’s of {dollars} price of nigh-impossible to accumulate gear and including versatility to any workflow, from a professional build-out to a suboptimal mission studio. The one different downside to the Sphere L22 system so far as I can see is that you simply’ll should additional purchase into the Common Audio ecosystem if you wish to use its latency-free monitoring and stay emulation options.

Even doing a number of assessments, I used to be simply in a position to scratch the floor of the modeling microphone’s capabilities. I didn’t have the gear obligatory to check its IsoSphere isolation sales space optimization, a characteristic that fine-tunes the mic’s sound to be used in untreated acoustic areas equivalent to house studios; nor did I’ve a drum equipment to take full benefit of the mic’s insanely excessive 140 dB sound strain degree restrict, for instance. Nevertheless it’s clear to me that the Townsend Labs Sphere L22 was engineered and programmed with nice care and a focus to element and I’d make it one among my first investments if I used to be constructing a studio and recording gear assortment from scratch. Relaxation assured, the Sphere L22 modeling mic system might be added to our lists of one of the best microphones for vocals and greatest condenser mics very quickly.